- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The volume of unsolicited e-mail will spike by as much as 1,000 percent this holiday season, as unsavory marketers ramp up their spamming campaigns to prey on weary shoppers.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of all e-mail sent worldwide between Thanksgiving and New Years Day is likely to be spam, according to companies that scan and filter out unwanted e-mail. Spam made up 56 percent of all e-mail in November, according to Brightmail, the worlds largest spam-filtering company.

“There is a direct correlation between the number of people going online to make purchases and the amount of spam,” said Bryson Gordon, chief spam-prevention officer with McAfee Security, a Santa Clara, Calif., Internet security firm.

Both McAfee and Brightmail said in each of the past three years, spam volume spiked noticeably between the end of November and early January. Spam often featured advertisements for holiday-related products or false claims referring to deep discounts on the most popular gift items.

Early indications are that spammers are at it again this year, companies said.

An analysis of spam shows that marketers use the holiday season to test new advertising campaigns, said Francois Lavaste, Brightmails director of marketing. Spam campaigns are more effective this time of year, Mr. Lavaste said, because workers and businesses dont send as much e-mail.

“Spammers are taking advantage of the holidays to spam more,” he said. “Spammers over and over again are taking advantage of whats topical.”

Brightmail scanned more than 77 billion messages during November, 56 percent of which were spam. Thats an increase of 8 percent over October and 40 percent since November 2002. Spam volume rose from 40 percent of all e-mail in November 2002 to 42 percent of e-mail the next January.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has filed lawsuits against some of the most deceptive spammers, said it has noticed an increase in the amount of spam that consumers report.

“Weve seen an uptick in the amount of spam sent to our ,” said Michael Goodman, a staff lawyer with the FTC. “It may be part of a general trend, but it might be a holiday uptick.”

He said the amount of spam sent to the FTC database, which is used to aid investigations into spamming activities, is not necessarily an accurate representation of the amount of spam being sent through the Internet.

Although online shopping sales are expected to hit a record high this year, some consumers said they have backed away from using the Internet because of spam fears. As many as 37 percent of Internet users said they will curb their online spending this holiday season to avoid more spam, according to a survey by the Internet research firm NFO WorldGroup.

Internet security companies warned consumers to be wary of fraudulent pop-up ads or Web sites that attempt to collect personal information. Mr. Gordon, of McAfee, said there has been a spike in pop-up ads offering fake discounts from popular Web sites such as Amazon.com.

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